Utah Adopts .05 Alcohol Legal Limit

Posted by Richard Lawson | Mar 26, 2017 | 0 Comments

As of March 23rd, 2017, Utah officially has the strictest DUI threshold in the country. Across the country, the blood alcohol content limit for most drivers is .08. However, Utah's lawmakers voted to lower the limit on March 9, 2017, and then it was up to the governor. Utah's Republican Governor Gary Herbert just signed legislation voting to lower Utah's limit to .05. This is the lowest threshold in the country.

Governor Gary Herbert told reporters that he hopes that lowering the blood alcohol limit to .05 percent from .08 percent will help save lives. While this may seem severe, the Governor is also asking lawmakers to consider a tiered punishment system that would allow for less stringent penalties for those convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level between .05 and .07 percent.  

What concerns me is that lowering the legal limit to .05 is not based on any scientific standards or studies.  The same thing happened when the limit was lowered from .10 to .08 in 1983.  Even though field sobriety testing was validated by comparing how people performed on the tests after dosing them to .10, they never re-validated those tests with people at .08.  The same thing will likely happen with the new .05 level.  As a result, police officers will simply assume that field sobriety testing was designed to detect drivers at .05.  This is nonsensical and will result in people being charged who were perfectly safe to drive. 

Many people such as restaurant groups and representatives of the ski and snowboard industry fought fervently against this change and urged their representatives to veto this bill. They argued that it would hurt Utah's image and punish responsible adults who drink instead of catching drivers who are actually impaired. The American Beverage Institute claimed that it would lead people to forgo drinking with dinner, which would hurt the industry. 

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety noted that more than 100 countries have already adopted a .05 percent limit and that this limit is a sensible solution for addressing drunk driving. They also noted it would not discourage alcohol consumption, but it will deter drinking and driving.

What is interesting to note is that Utah was the first state to lower its blood alcohol limit to .08 percent in 1983. Some of the same arguments against lowering it were present then, but tourism has continued to flourish in Utah. In reality, tourism flourished because other states adopted the same change in the law.  If Utah stands alone, it could affect tourism.  

Utah's new threshold will take effect on December 30, 2018, and the National Transportation Board has already begun encouraging other states to adopt the .05 percent limit. It will be interesting to see if this change decreases the number of drunk driving fatalities in Utah and whether other states will begin to adopt this standard as well. 

I predict that most states will eventually follow Utah's lead.  As for Georgia, we will likely pass the new standard before most states.  

If you have been charged with a DUI or a DUI-related crime, contact our offices today. It is difficult to defend a DUI charge on your own. Our Georgia DUI Attorneys have over 20 years of experience specifically in DUI law so let their experience work for you. 

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Richard Lawson

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